Hidden Pandemic: The vulnerability of Christian women and girls around the world

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By Kimberley Linco | 4 March 2021
Content warning: Description of sexual abuse, which may be distressing for some readers. 

When Boutros*, a gifted evangelist in South-East Asia, refused to stop sharing his faith among his local community, his 19-year-old daughter Lucina* was abducted, assaulted, and forced into marriage.

When she was found three months later, she was traumatised, malnourished, and pregnant.

Lucina’s story represents a devastating reality faced by millions of Christian women around the world to-day – and it’s only getting worse.

Gender As A Weapon Of Persecution

Image Bachu from Ethiopia at an Open Doors youth event.

The 2021 Gender-Specific Religious Persecution (GSRP) Report, published by Open Doors International, found that COVID-19 is fuelling a growing, “hidden pandemic” of gender-based violence, abduction and trafficking towards Christian women and girls across Africa, Asia, Middle East, and Latin America.

The study has found that violence against Christian women has increased by 31% since 2020, reflecting the reality that in a year of global lockdowns, domestic violence was increasingly used as a tool to control women, particularly Christian converts.

Persecution facing Christian women and girls is typically more hidden than the forms of persecution commonly used to target men. Women often face persecution behind closed doors, in their home.

In many countries, the top pressure points for women, such as forced marriage and domestic violence, have become so culturally accepted that perpetrators make little to no attempt to hide their actions, and have no fear of consequences.

One local partner of Open Doors said, “This violence is a persecution weapon, a way of making Christian women vulnerable and traumatising the community.”

Restorations

Image A Bangladeshi woman reading her bible

Open Doors is training and equipping Christian leaders to stand strong against persecution, to protect and build resilience in the community through a new program called Restorations.

In some cases, Christian girls - like Lucina - who become pregnant because of their assault, have been viewed as ‘tarnished’ by their families and communities. Their babies are often viewed as illegitimate and unwelcome.

The Restorations program aims to help the victims of sexual violence to heal and reintegrate into their community. It is based on biblical principles and Jesus’ character, and aims to help the community and families respond to persecution in love and solidarity.

Hope For The Future

Image Daily life in Libya

After Lucina’s abduction and pregnancy, her father had a choice of how to respond to his daughter’s ab-duction. Boutros persistently worked with police, in the face of opposition, to both retrieve her and to bring charges against the man who had held her prisoner and sexually assaulted her.

Boutros then gave his daughter and the grandson from this false marriage a place and a future in his home.

He has taken on any shame directed at her, declaring her guiltless. There is almost no greater way to help his daughter to overcome her trauma.

Your support enables local church leaders to teach and engage their communities with biblical principles, encouraging families to respond to trauma with Christ-like love and radical acceptance.

To download the full 2021 GSRP report, visit opendoors.org.au/GSRP

*Names changed for security purposes.

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